Against All Odds

In Arizona, you get a nice, fine, red dust all over everything. That is
how Andy Bailey, a 72-year-old triathlon athlete, begins his story of how he
became a right transtibial amputee.


He and his wife, Jeri, had just returned to their California home from a
2-week trip to the Grand Canyon state. He explained that Dec. 11, 2006, the day
they returned was cool even for their area of the country so he put off washing
the car. He decided to wait instead until Tuesday when the weather would be a
little warmer.

On Tuesday afternoon, as promised, after browsing through e-mails,
Bailey went outside to wash the car the same way he did for 35 years, by
backing the car just far enough out of the garage into their wide driveway to
give it a thorough cleansing.

Part of the routine

That same afternoon, a neighbor of the Baileys was taking care of her
own chores as well. A laundry delivery van made its way onto the steep street
where they reside.

“The laundry delivery guy drove up the hill, made a u-turn and came
back down the street,” Bailey told O&P Business News. “He
parallel parked in her driveway rather than pulling in.”

  A freak accident interrupted Bailey’s routine and his life, leading to his right transtibial amputation.
  A freak accident interrupted
Bailey’s routine and his life, leading to his right transtibial
  All images: Andy Bailey

Bailey, still washing the remnants of their trip off of the car, noted
the van up the block, the engine still running, as the delivery was being made
at the front door of the house. It seemed like a normal enough occurrence and
did not cause Bailey to leave his work.

“I hear this noise and I look up and the van is about 10 feet from
me and the driver is on the right side of the van trying to run down the street
after it,” Bailey said, again mentioning the steep hill on which they
live. “He’s waving his arms and yelling and screaming and I see the
van hit our mailbox and it went flying. Then the next thing I know I feel the
van hit the passenger side of the car.”

The car then pushed Bailey into a wooden railing on the edge of the
driveway – in place to keep anyone from accidentally falling into the drop
between properties. It did not withstand the blow.


Bailey recalls the sensation of flying, however not without a jolt of
pain. Somehow his right shoelace became tangled in the wreckage of the broken

“My foot finally came out of the shoe and I landed on my back
underneath our neighbor’s car port about 15 feet [away],” Bailey
said. “I lifted up my right leg and my foot was just dangling there by a
little bit of nothing. Right then, the first words out of my mouth were,
‘I’ve lost my foot. I’ve lost my foot.’”

Once paramedics arrived and transported Bailey to the hospital, more
than 30 minutes had passed.

“They never gave me any pain medication and I was in excruciating
pain,” he said. “I was one of five trauma accidents that came into
the hospital that afternoon and since I was fairly stable they just waited
until they got an opportunity to treat me.”

Physicians were still uncertain if he had any additional injuries and
continued to withhold pain medication until that could be determined.

  Though his road back to triathlon competition was long, Bailey does not regret his decisions along the way.
  Though his road back to triathlon
competition was long, Bailey does not regret his decisions along the way.

“Finally someone comes out and puts my foot back into place and
I’m crying out with pain and the next thing I hear someone say, ‘You
can give him the morphine now,’” he said. “And that’s the
last thing I remember until I woke up the next day.”

Compound problems

While he was unconscious, doctors took Bailey into surgery and treated
his foot and ankle to the best of their abilities, sewing up the skin they
could salvage. When he woke, wound VAC was attached to his ankle in an attempt
to speed up the healing process.

Every few days after that, he was wheeled back into surgery to have the
system changed. Each time, with the wound VAC, additional flesh also left the
wound site – the one downfall of that system according to Bailey. But
there was more working against him than he knew at the time.

Bailey’s body was simultaneously battling a methicillin-resistant
Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA) infection. He was put on intravenous
antibiotics to kill the bacteria.

Several weeks passed before doctors tried a different approach to save
Bailey’s foot. This time, they tried an ankle fusion technique that
required the insertion of a rod up along Bailey’s tibia.

By now, Bailey explained, the wound was larger than ever due to multiple
wound VAC changes.

“Instead of being able to take a small muscle out of my calf or
abdomen, they end up having to take the biggest muscle in my body – the
latissimus dorsi,” Bailey said. “Then they took a big swatch of skin
off my left thigh to make a skin graft. So I end up with this huge muscle flap
and skin graft. I was in IC for 3 days and then finally … I was released
back to the ward.”

Short homecoming

It was 7 weeks total that Bailey spent hospitalized following the
accident. He was released with prescriptions for oral antibiotics to continue
to treat the MRSA infection and with appointments to visit the plastic surgeon
frequently to check on his healing process.

“I’d go in there regularly the first 3 or 4 weeks and then I
went in to see the orthopedic surgeon to see how the ankle fusion was,”
Bailey said. “That went on for 2 or 3 months but I just kept having these
wounds on my ankle.”

Radiographs revealed a small piece of fibula and staples from the skin
flap “floating around,” as Bailey put it.

Doctors assumed that was the cause for his increased healing time so
back to the hospital Bailey went for, what was expected to be, a quick
outpatient procedure.

“By the time they got in there and dug around, they decided to keep
me overnight in the hospital,” he explained adding that he woke up the
next morning with a wound VAC again at the site of injury.

Other options

Determined not to spend more time in the hospital, Bailey was released
with a portable system. With frequent visits from nurses to change wound
dressings,f finally the wound site was showing some signs of healing and the
wound VAC was removed.

Physical therapy was the next obstacle up on the agenda but this came
with a lot of pain, so much so that Bailey said he could hardly put any weight
on the leg.

  Bailey credits many things for his return to triathlons, not the least of which is his wife, Jeri.
  Bailey credits many things for
his return to triathlons, not the least of which is his wife, Jeri.

“I was not making any progress at all,” he said. “I was
still on crutches.”

Physical therapy was discontinued and doctor visits again resumed with
more frequency. By now, 7 months had passed since the initial accident.

His original orthopedic surgeon moved his practice too far for the
Baileys to travel so instead they sought out the help of a new physician and
got a new take on the problems with his injury.

“He takes a look at my ankle and he doesn’t like the way its
set and says it looks crooked,” Bailey said adding that this physician is
doubtful that the MRSA infection has been resolved.

A catscan revealed that to be true.

“My wife and I were looking at each other thinking ‘Well,
where do we go from here?’”

The doctor raised their hopes that there was another option, until they
heard the word amputation.

“I just about fell off the exam table,” Bailey said.
“I’m an athlete. I’ve been a runner all my life. Those are the
last words I want to hear.”

At that point, the Baileys decided not to move forward with amputation.
With the guidance of this new physician, he stayed on antibiotics and hoped
that things would improve while he sought other options.

A new outlook

Fast forward 2 months to the Pacific Coast Triathlon held in Newport
Beach, Calif. The September 2007 triathlon marked the 10-year anniversary of
the event. It was also one that Bailey had participated since its inception.
This year, he would not miss it either, even if he could not compete.

Attending the event on crutches, Bailey approached a
Challenged Athletes Foundation (CAF) canopy where members of
the CAF were warming up for the race.

“I’m familiar with the CAF because two of the triathlete clubs
I belong to have done fundraisers for the organization and I’d been a
volunteer for the San Diego Triathlon Challenge,” he said. “They had
several of their challenged athletes there.”

Also in attendance was Bob Babbiyt, one of the founding members of the
CAF. He and Bailey knew each other from the racing circuit.

“He said, “Andy, you have to talk to Sarah Reinertsen and
Willie Stewart about this amputation. You’ve almost been out a whole year
now and nothing’s happened,’” Bailey said. “Then, the
future for me was being on crutches the rest of my life and antibiotics and
pain pills. So I talked to them and they were very encouraging and … they
really got me thinking seriously about the amputation.”

Back on track

After one last effort to save the foot – and four additional
physician opinions – Bailey scheduled his right transtibial amputation
surgery for Feb. 28, 2008. The day after surgery, a peer visitor from CAF
visited Bailey – full of energy and encouraging words. She had just
finished a training run and all Bailey could ponder was whether he would walk
or run again. The road back to his previous activity has not always been a
smooth one, but it is one he does not regret taking.

Part of Bailey’s comeback was participating in several reverse
triathlons with his CAF teammate, Fermin Camarena, a stroke survivor. Camarena
completed the run and bike portions on his tricycle and Bailey was responsible
for the swim portion.

“Fermin is an amazing and inspiring athlete,” Bailey said.
“I enjoy being on a team with him. He has such a positive attitude. If it
had not been for my accident, our paths would never have crossed and I would
have missed out on this wonderful friendship.”

Camarena and Bailey will team up again for the Nautica Malibu Triathlon
held September 12th.

Bailey is training for the ocean swim portion of the September 19th
Pacific Coast Triathlon as a part of a relay team – with his friends
Reinertsen and CAF board member Tim Maguire.

Extra help

He had problems with his residual limb that took some time to resolve
with the help of Stan Patterson, CP of Southern California Prosthetics.

“I now have a prosthesis I am comfortable with,” Bailey said.

In February 2010, Bailey returned to cycling and running. A few weeks
later, he heard the words he wanted to hear.

“Stan said, ‘Andy, I think it’s time for you to try a
triathlon. You’re doing great and everything is working good,’”
Bailey said. “So I said, ‘Okay, let’s go for it.’”

He entered the 11th Annual Desert International and
Sprint Triathlon, which took place on March 7th, and successfully completed the
500-yard reservoir swim, 14-mile bike ride and 3-mile run. He is modest about
his achievement explaining that he did have to walk portion but still, his
completion is nothing short of a celebrated comeback.

Three weeks after the Desert International and Sprint Triathlon, Bailey
was awarded the first-ever Tony Curry and Jim McCann Inspirational Award.

“Tony Curry was killed in a bike accident while training for the
Desert International and Sprint Triathlon. I shared this award with another
amputee who completed the International distance,” Bailey said. “I
did triathlons for many years as an able-bodied person. Being an amputee makes
competing in triathlons a real challenge, but I love being back in the sport
and have now completed seven sprint triathlons.”

Bailey gives thanks to the CAF for holding workshops like those he
participated in through their Catch a Rising Star program. He credits them
along with technology provided by Ossur and his wife Jeri’s support for
his comeback.

“At the age of 72, I hope to be an inspiration to others as I
continue in my training and return to the sport of triathlons which I love. The
most rewarding part of competing now is that as an athlete I can demonstrate to
other disabled persons what is possible and inspire them to pursue their
goals,” Bailey said. “Yes, there is life after amputation.”
by Jennifer Hoydicz

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